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Soir d'hiver (1914)

Soir d'hiver

Une jeune femme berce son enfant.
Elle est seule, elle pleure, mais elle chante,
Car il faut bien qu'il entende
la chanson douce et tendre pour qu'il s'endorme.
"Voici Noël, mon petit enfant bleu.
Les cloches sonneront
pour que tu sois joyeux."
Celui qu'elle aime est parti . . .
et la chanson s'arrête!
Elle dit:
"Où est-il à cette heure?
Entend-il ma voix?
et sait-il que je vis?"
Elle pleure si simplement
que le cœur en a mal.
Elle regarde son fils
et cherche s'il ressemble
à celui qu'elle attend inlassablement,
de toute son âme, de toute sa tendresse!
Elle pleure, mais elle espère!
Elle entend de loin la Victoire,
elle devine la lutte sans merci,
mais elle croit à la Justice,
elle sait que toute une vie s'est donnée,
joyeuse et fière, et elle attend,
Auprès de ce berceau si petit,
qui tient le cœur d'un homme.

Winter evening

A young woman rocks her child.
She is alone, she weeps, but she sings,
For he must hear her song,
Sweet and tender, if he is to fall asleep.
‘Christmas has come, blue little child.
The bells will ring
To fill you with joy.’
The man she loves has left . . .
And the song ceases!
She says:
‘Where is he at this hour?
Can he hear my voice?
And does he know that I live?’
She weeps so simply
That it hurts the heart.
She looks at her son
And tries to see if he resembles
The man she waits for unremittingly,
With all her heart, with all her tenderness!
She weeps but she hopes!
She hears Victory in the distance,
She imagines the merciless struggle,
But she believes in Justice,
She knows that an entire life was sacrificed,
Joyous and proud, and she waits.
By the side of this tiny cradle
That holds the heart of a man.

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Nadia Boulanger and her immensely gifted younger sister Lili came from a family of musicians. Boulanger joined the Paris Conservatoire aged ten, studying harmony and composition, alongside private organ lessons. Gabriel Fauré, who taught her composition, encouraged and supported her.  The virtuoso Raoul Pugno championed her as a performer, often sharing the stage with her before his death in 1914.

Boulanger stopped composing around 1919 (the year of her sister’s death), after which she dedicated herself to teaching, becoming one of the foremost composition teachers within the twentieth-century art music traditions, as well as one of the first professional female conductors. Her influence was international, not least because she lived and worked in the USA during World War II.

She energetically promoted the music of her sister and students, especially Stravinsky. An important patron between the wars was the indefatigable heiress Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac, who created conducting opportunities for Boulanger in the 1930s. In addition, she contributed to the 20th-century rediscovery of early music. By the end of her life, she had gained many honours.

Boulanger and Pugno co-composed the song cycle Les heures claires (1909) to poems by the great Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren, as well as an opera La ville morte. She wrote over thirty songs, favouring chromatic and modal harmony. Her choice of poet ranged from established favourites such as Heine and Verlaine (one setting each), to important contemporaries like Maurice Maeterlinck.

A list of her songs is below:

- Five Songs (Soleils couchants/Paul Verlaine, Cantique/Maurice Maeterlinck, Élégie/Albert Samain, Prière/H. Bataille, Was will die einsame Träne/Heinrich Heine), 1909

- Les heures claires (Le ciel en nuit s’est déplié; Avec mes sens, avec mon cœur; Vous m’avez dit; Que tes yeux claires, tes yeux d’été; C’était en juin; Ta bonté; Roses de Juin; S’il arrive jamais,)1909-1912

- Mélodies, 1910

- Seven Songs (Soir d’hiver/Nadia Boulanger, L’Échange/Camille Mauclair, Chanson/Camille Mauclair, Le Couteau/Camille Mauclair, Au bord de la route/Camille Mauclair, Doute/Camille Mauclair, J’ai frappé/J.-F. Bourguignon), 1915 (oder 1916)/1922.

All her songs are recorded and available in recent editions.

© Natasha Loges, 2022

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